Local teen Ray Wipfli recognized for efforts in Uganda: ‘It takes hard make change happen in the world’


Ray Wipfli was 10 years old in March 2014 when, just back from a trip to Uganda with mom Heather, he shared at a TEDx speaking event how he’d bonded with Ugandan children over their shared love of soccer.

“They were very different from you or me,” a then-Paradise Canyon student told the audience. “[But] when we played together, we all had a good time because we all worked toward a shared goal.”

From that discussion sprung a philanthropic effort, organized under the nonprofit Ray United LC, to bring donated soccer equipment, nutritious meals and medical services to the remote Ugandan village of Mpigi via a soccer camp. But that was just the beginning.

So far, Ray United has helped raise more than $130,000 to fund soccer training and health education camps that have reached more than 3,000 youth. With the help from his mom, director of USC’s Institute for Global Health, Ray set an ambitious goal in 2015 to replicate what was done in Mpigi in other villages and regions, each year, over the next four years.

Now a La Cañada High School freshman, the 14-year-old has raised funds by organizing 5K walks and soccer tournaments, selling T-shirts, handmade baskets and other items.

Over multiple visits, he’s set up three soccer camps where Ugandan kids receive soccer training from professional Ugandan players, along with healthy meals, hygiene kits and soccer uniforms.

For his efforts, the La Cañada teen was recently named among 25 recipients of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes — an award that celebrates “inspiring, public-spirited young people from across North America who have made a significant positive difference to people and the environment,” according to the group’s website,

Top winners receive a $5,000 cash award to support their service work or higher education. In a release issued Monday, Ray Wipfli shared his takeaway from 3½ years of philanthropy.

“I’ve learned that it takes hard work and sustained commitment to make change happen in the world,” he said.

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Twitter: @SaraCardine